Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 49.djvu/80

This page has been validated.

The Eight-hour Agitation.—This is the fundamental principle or philosophy of the trade-union movement in this country, and in 1888 "the American Federation of Labor," numerically one of the strongest of the unions, voted to unite with the "Eight-hour League," and thenceforth to concentrate all effort on the struggle for eight hours. Their programme was then to take charge of one trade at a time. Thus, in 1890, the gage of battle fell to the lot of the carpenters, who accordingly struck, under orders, for an eight-hour day on May 1st, and won temporary victories in one hundred and thirty-seven cities. Plans were laid for the miners to strike, on May 1, 1891, for eight hours, but the conditions were not then favorable, and although these plans have since been in abeyance owing to depressed conditions of trade, they have not been abandoned, and I have reason to believe that employers in almost all trades will be called upon to meet this question in the not very distant future.

The argument of the eight-hour philosophers is that, by restricting the hours of work, more laborers must be employed and the idle surplus provided for; I consider that this is specious reasoning. The overflowing stream of immigration from European countries, attracted to America by comparatively high wages, suffices even now to produce a permanent flood, at least in the fields of unskilled labor. If to this we add a still more powerful attraction of eight hours forming a legal working day, the tidal wave flowing from all the less favored countries in the world would swamp our native industrial population and induce a condition which would be far less favorable to them than that which now obtains.[1]

  1. I am able to substantiate these views by figures bearing upon the subject. The official statistician of Paris, M. Berthelot, gives the proportion of foreigners in that city as 7.5 per cent; these are chiefly wealthy persons who distribute a portion of their funds among the trades people. London and Vienna have each 2.2 per cent. Berlin has 1.1 per cent of foreigners, also mainly persons of wealth. The foreigners residing in American cities are chiefly poor immigrants who compete with the native working class for wages, and are accustomed and content to live in comparative squalor. The percentages of "foreign born" to total population in five principal American cities are as follows: Philadelphia, 25.74 per cent; Boston, 35.27 per cent; New York, 42.23 per cent; Chicago, 40.98 per cent; Milwaukee, 38.92 per cent. More than thirty per cent of the foreign-born males, twenty-one years of age and over, in the five cities named, are aliens. The percentages of "persons of foreign parentage" to total population in these cities are as follows: Philadelphia, 56.58 per cent; Boston, 67.96 per cent; Chicago, 77.90 per cent; New York, 80.46 per cent; Milwaukee, 86.36 per cent. This information was courteously furnished by the Chief of Census Division, Department of the Interior, Washington, March 12, 1896. More rigid enforcement of contract-labor laws has decreased importation of foreign labor under direct or written contract, but there is ample evidence that Italian labor purveyors still influence such immigration. Immigrant inspectors Birmingham and Hinkle reported (under date of January 11, 1895) to the Secretary of the Immigration Investigation Committee, among other facts, as follows: "Mr. Desabadia (an Italian padrone of New York) informed us that he was regularly engaged in supplying Italian laborers in any numbers to contractors or others desiring labor done; that he was prepared now to furnish from two to six hundred men (Italians) for work of any nature; that he could furnish stonemasons, carpenters, or men of almost any of the building operations." The equivalent of the padrone system is not confined to Italians. Poles, Hungarians, Greeks, and other foreigners, temporarily camping in this country, are forwarded "on call"